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The last week has been full of creative input. Since last Thursday I have been to a writing convention, scoped out a possible performance spot with a friend who is a great singer – getting to enjoy some live music at the same time, some of which was perfect writing music – and been to my writing group (which focussed on books with unreliable narrators today!).

None of these things were impossible before my career break, of course, but I value them more now than I could before, because they have a different impact on me.  Prior to my break I would have enjoyed them and moved on. Now, creativity stimulates my mind and inspires me to write. Even just the memory of a piece of music I heard yesterday brings a specific scene to mind.

When we are in the normal routine of going to work, looking after families, doing the housework and so on, we don’t care about the creative input. Sure, we might have the radio on when we wash the dishes but it’s just background noise.  But I learnt that the more aware I am of the world around me, the better I can express that world in words.

The more the input, the better the output.

So the next few days I will be reflecting on what I have seen and heard this week.  Not just the creative input either, but the sights and sounds of daily life which grab my attention and keep it there.

I hope some of it will feed into my series of poems but if not, it might appear in another guise, at another time.

That’s the thing about input – if you value it, it can last for years!

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

 

 

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Panto season is over and I will be free to catch up with my writing and coursework next week.

I have spent some time reflecting on the experience over the last few weeks and it seems to me that the balance of effort to outcome, of writing time lost to benefit gained, may be a little out of kilter.

Has it helped my writing?  Yes, in some ways it has, as I said on Thursday.  It has also given me ideas for future scenes and stories and put me in touch with some very interesting people who may be able to help me in the future.

But time is finite and I have to start thinking about where it can best be used.  Months of rehearsals and planning meetings have led me to the conclusion that I need to reconsider my dramatic interludes.

I am not a performance poet, or a regular public reader, and I know that I need to improve my presentation skills for readings and to build my confidence in sharing my work.  In theory, acting could help with this. However, in reality I don’t think this is the case.  Acting (as we do it) is comedic, unpolished and a team effort.  It is not refined or professional enough to bring to a poetry reading.

Furthermore, being yourself on stage, sharing your own thoughts, is somewhat different to playing a character and reciting someone else’s words.  When I act I feel nervous and embarrassed before going on stage. When I read my own work I feel anxious, exposed and vulnerable.  It matters so much more that the two are almost incomparable.

So from a writing point of view I lose more in time than I gain in skills.

On a personal basis I miss writing in those weeks I don’t do it: I don’t have the right balance in life.  Acting feeds my need to be creative but not my need to develop and explore my own ideas.  It doesn’t fulfil me or challenge me to be better because it doesn’t matter.

I act for fun: writing is a need.  If I have any doubt about what I should and shouldn’t agree to in the future that distinction should help!

In other news – after a short hiatus writing group is back soon and the plan for an open mike event is taking shape, so I hope to have more on that next time!

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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So it is that time of the year again, when I launch my Challenge Tuesday with a whizzbang starter and get a few under my belt to see me through the first few weeks.

Or not, as the case may be…

Firstly, I’ve got to report my final tally for 2016 being a vaguely disappointing 41 books. It’s not that bad a number, but more that I missed both my original and my revised targets that feels a little negative.

However, it has forced me to accept that I cannot do everything I might want to do – read, write, study, work, act, sew, crochet, play table tennis, go to the gym, spend time with loved ones…  There are only 24 hours in a day, and I like to spend some of them asleep.  I have to make better choices for my time.

So this year’s challenge is to read works with a view to enhancing my writing. It may be something from a relevant genre for style ideas, or a writer I admire for their strong prose or beautiful imagery, their use of themes or metaphors.  It might be research – a biography or history book, for example.  It might be poetry for the rhythm.  Who knows? There’s no set number, just a purpose.

Let’s see where that concept takes me!

In the meantime, here’s the list of books from 2016:

Book 1 – The Path of Daggers, by Robert Jordan

Book 2 – Winter’s Heart, by Robert Jordan

Book 3 – The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 4 – Tears of the Giraffe, by Alexander McCall  Smith

Book 5 – Morality for Beautiful Girls, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 6 – The Kalahari Typing School for Men, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 7 – The Merlin Conspiracy, by Diana Wynne Jones

Book 8 – A Little Love Song, by Michelle Magorian

Book 9 – Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood

Book 10 – What We Believe But Cannot Prove, edited by John Brockman

Book 11 – The Full Cupboard of Life, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 12 – In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 13 – The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy

Book 14 – The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy

Book 15 – Summer, by Edith Wharton

Book 16 – The Double Clue, and other Hercule Poirot Stories, by Agatha Christie

Book 17 – The Dressmaker, by Rosalie Ham

Book 18 – The Beauties and the Furies, by Christina Stead

Book 19 – The Seance, by John Harwood

Book 20 – North of Nowhere, by Liz Kessler

Book 21 – A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 22 – The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 23 – The Farthest Shore, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 24 – Tehanu, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 25 – A Spot of Bother, by Mark Haddon

Book 26 – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

Book 27 – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

Book 28 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling

Book 29 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

Book 30 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling

Book 31 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling

Book 32 – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark

Book 33 – The Last Anniversary, by Liane Moriarty

Book 34 – Pyramid, by David Gibbins

Book 35 – My Soul To Take, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Book 36 – Willow, Wine, Mirror, Moon: Women’s Poems from Tang China, translated by Jeanne Larsen 

Book 37 – The Axeman’s Jazz, by Ray Celestin

Book 38 – Chocolat, by Joanne Harris

Book 39 – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Book 40 – Lady Oracle, by Margaret Atwood

Book 41 – A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees, by Kenkō; translated by Meredith McKinney

If you have any ideas for the 2017 list, please let me know in the comments – I’d love to know what makes you sit up and take notice, as a writer!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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This week I did a really great writing exercise. It was simple, and I chose it because it was quick so one of my lunch break ones, but I got so much more out of it than expected.

It was one in which I had to focus on me, and because of the way to exercise was written, it inevitably got me thinking about s specific period in my life. I said last week that I’d been visiting universities and I imagine that is why I ended up thinking about my own experiences as a student for this task.

What it got me doing though, which I hadn’t really imagined, is to start writing a character. Partly it’s the me I was at 18 just starting an amazing and exciting period of my life, and partly it was an imagined version of who that character could have become. It went from being an autobiographical account to a future me that never existed.

It’s like the Sliding Doors principle: if I’d taken a different door I could have ended up a different person from the one I am now. That is the character that developed as I wrote.

It was a really exciting way to develop a new character – one that is potentially repeatable with other individuals I know or remember.

There’s always a fine line between developing ideas based on experiences and using other people in your work without permission, and it’s a subject I have covered before. However, I think this is a really safe way of using personal knowledge and experience because you are creating someone new based on hypothetical responses to imagined events – the real person is just a springboard to get you thinking.

It’s definitely an idea to explore; I’d like to try it out with my husband answering a few questions so I get a feel for how it can be adapted to use biographically rather than autobiographically, but it’s a good start for my hour of thinking about how characters can work in a particular storyline.

I was so enthused, I had to tell you about it!

In other news – Fred is still in peril, although he’s about to time jump out of the fire and into the frying pan… I need to finish his story before Christmas so he’s in for a speedy conclusion to his travels in time.

Writing group concluded for the year with a discussion about the balance between the cleverness of writing and the intricacy of a plot.  This was a particularly interesting topic because we have all read books with great plots that were virtually unintelligible, or which were beautifully written but devoid of engaging plot or characters to keep you interested. For me, good writing is accessible writing, and the more pretentious it sounds the less I think it has anything of interest to say.

Finally, from a writing point of view, I have not yet decided on a course but as some start in January I need to get into gear and choose something.  Fingers crossed, it’ll be done by next week!

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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This week I will not talk about my other work (other than this!).

This week, I have got my little anthropomorphised character Fred time travelling to Egypt. He is currently walking on the Giza Plateau to watch the Great Pyramid being constructed. It’s a pretty interesting spectacle for him, because not only has he never seen sand before, but he has never seen a man-made monument before. He’s trying to think it through but really has no idea what is going on.

I am enjoying writing this little tale of intrigue; although it’s a children’s story I am working to get the details right, and yet I can stop as I like so I don’t have to get into too much research detail.

It’s letting me play about with some fun ideas too, and gradually I am starting to feel more ‘writerly’, if you know what I mean.

I’ve also been spurred on by a trip I had to the theatre this weekend, to see a Harold Pinter play called No Man’s Land.  It was described as a comedy but it really wasn’t: there were many points in the script which were funny or slightly unexpected and we audience members laughed out loud, but there was a pathos in it, a sadness and a loneliness that I had not expected.  I am not sure I like the work tragicomic, but it does highlight the way the tale leapt from one emotion to another.

Works like that make me want to test my capabilities, push myself to  produce something thought-provoking.  I know my voice in writing is quite light but that doesn’t mean the content has to be, or that I am limited in genre.

I just have to believe I can do it.

Interestingly enough, this week started with the theatre too, albeit on a somewhat reduced scale – I am back rehearsing for the next am dram performance… Once again I am the principle boy – I’m not sure if it’s typecasting yet but once more and I’ll be sure!

It is clear to me that with everything I have on at the moment I need to be really strict about my daily writing again and with that in mind, I am considering an ‘all in, in October’ premise to share my wordcount.  With Fred as my star, I don’t think it’s going to impact on quality of writing, but will certainly help with the quantity.

I will think about it – if I go for it, you’ll know soon enough!

Until next time – whenever it may be!

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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At any given time, if someone were able to see my thoughts in my head, they would see a lot of jumbled up, interconnected, falling over each other thoughts. I feel like I have a lot in my head and that’s why it is so joyful when I can siphon it off onto paper.

I suspect we are all like this to one degree or another, and could all do with a mental mute button every so often.

As a writer, I like to record some of these ad hoc rambling thoughts: not only because they might spark an idea in the future but because they link seemingly arbitrary concepts in a way that only happens subconsciously.

It is funny how our neurons fire up; sometimes I almost think I can feel it, like a million tiny sparks of light linking one moment to another.

I have talked before about the value of the notebook in these times and it’s definitely a useful writing tool.

Of course, some thoughts bubble up that are much more challenging for one reason or another. These situations feed my poetry but it takes a while sometimes to look back at it, and it generally produces work that I feel unwilling to share in open mike events or at readings.

For me, the most difficult to share are about loss. But even with these thoughts my neurons can prod me into an unexpected direction; I guess because the sadness is a direct result of happier times before.

The point really is to say that thoughts can get in the way of what we think we need to do.  But perhaps, if we can treat them differently, they can be a conduit to getting to an altogether unexpected destination.

And maybe that’s where our brains wanted us to go in the first place!

Happy Writing,
EJ
🙂

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It’s been a running joke with a friend at work that he wants me to write a story for him.  Based on a variety of strange and unconnected discussions this week I began on an animal time traveller story…

It’s a concept that would work well for children, and therefore the story is definitely being written with that mindset; never mind the age of the audience, the story dictates the style!

This is really how I started writing as an adult – children’s short stories either made us as a joke with a friend or made up for my nieces and nephews. I was often called upon to tell multiple sequences of stories, where the same characters appeared time and time again.

I’d forgotten all that really – children’s writing was not the way I chose to go but there’s a degree of freedom in it that you don’t get in writing for adults.  It was a lovely way to spend time with the kids, and they would even make their own tales up for me after a while.

So in my return to writing, having a fun, silly, pressure-free project is a joy, quite honestly: it’s a return to a more organic nature of storytelling which I love. It’s like going back to basics where your imagination is completely free to go wild, there’s no constraint on the nature of reality and you can anthropomorphise anything you like to make the start of your story.

Maybe I’ll stick with children’s stories for a bit – they are the most effective way I have ever found to stretch the bounds of my imagination.

Happy writing,
EJ
🙂

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